As mentioned in previous postings, The “Church” was meant and designed to be a glorious entity that would fulfill God’s plan in this world, but yet not be of the world. In the first part of this series I made a comment that the Church today is in trouble. That may not sit well with everyone, and I want to explain what I meant by that statement.
Two millennia have passed since Jesus ascended before the eyes of His disciples. The history of the Church is long and painful to read. It was not long after Pentecost that the persecution of the Church came in as a storm; in fact, the Church was warned of the greatness of the persecution to come in the comments that the risen Messiah made to the Apostle John in Revelation 2:8-10:
These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life…” (NKJV)
The “ten days” of persecution mentioned in this passage foretells (for those in the early church) ten successive periods of persecution brought on by the Roman emperors to come. This happened, just as foretold. The early Christians went through unspeakable persecution at the hands of the pagan emperors. Christians were beheaded, crucified, burned, and fed to wild animals before the blood-thirsty crowds in the Roman colosseum.
Unfortunately, what happened in later centuries became unspeakably worse. The persecution of anyone in disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church is historically the worst ever recorded. Over the centuries, multiplied millions of men, women, and children who refused to submit themselves to the twisted theology and demands of the Roman Pontiffs were tortured in the most insane ways and then eventually murdered. Yet, whether the persecution came from the State or whether it came from religious enemies, the true Church of Jesus Christ thrived, growing by leaps and bounds–in spite of the large numbers murdered for their beliefs.
This is also the case today. The enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ today cannot wipe the Christians out anymore today than they ever could in earlier history. The more they kill, the more the believers multiply! The power of the Holy Spirit is flowing through the persecuted church all over the world and the powers of hell have no way of slowing their effectiveness! This is how it will be until the day that the LORD calls us home!
I receive weekly personal reports from the killing fields of the Middle East. The Christians are enduring an onslaught today like never before in history. Violent terrorist groups are going through the whole mideast killing anyone they find that happens to disagree with whatever religious insanity the killer jihadists happen to be in league with. The bullseye of their target however is any Christian or Jewish person that can be found.
With these thoughts in mind however, I would like to turn in a different direction. At the same time that much of the Church of Jesus Christ is going through unspeakable persecution in many nations of the world today, multitudes of professing Christians are spiritually in deep trouble and totally unprepared for what is ahead.
Anyone who has read and studied the seven letters written to the churches in the second and third chapters of Revelation knows that Jesus used these letters to point out strengths and weaknesses of the churches. We also know that these letters were prophetic in nature and foretold conditions of the Church throughout the last 2000 years. These very same letters are also applicable in our assessment of the condition of the modern church today, and of us as individual Christians.
It is my contention that most of the modern day western Church is not ready for the return of the Lord, nor is it prepared for the build-up of events leading to this great event. The western world has been enjoying relative freedom and prosperity for long enough to have forgotten the source of all good things, and so takes these blessings for granted instead of giving credit and praising the One who provided it.
For multitudes, there is no personal relationship connected to their claim of being a “Christian”. In the weeks and months ahead, I am afraid that many people are going to be shocked into some unexpected realities. If it is true that we are facing the End of the Age, as I fully believe we are, then we are about to have some very serious events that will be unleashed on this world. I am afraid that those who have just coasted through their Christian life will find themselves totally unprepared to deal with the new reality they will be facing. There are many people who have experienced “the good life” and are not prepared for anything less. When disaster comes knocking on the door, whether it is personal tragedy or national calamity, they will not be prepared. For those who have walked away from a relationship with the Lord that they had at one time, they will find themselves totally overwhelmed.
Our world is already experiencing the birth pangs that Jesus warned us about. These birth pangs are increasing in rapidity as well as intensity. There are multitudes today who don’t recognize what is boiling just below the surface of life today. The growing chaos is beginning to erupt like a volcano, and there will be no stopping it now that it has begun!
In Revelation 2:12-17 we find Jesus saying this to the Church:
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, “These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” (NKJV)
There is much to glean from this passage of Scripture having to do with the Church at Pergamos. Looking back in history, we can now see it as the church which compromised with the world. Many Bible scholars believe, as do I, that the seven churches are to a great extent represented during specific times in Church history. The exhortation to the Church in Pergamos would be representative of the time when the emperor Constantine changed the laws of the Roman Empire in relation to religion. Constantine gave the Church great freedoms during his reign; in fact, making an edict that Christianity was to be the official religion of the empire. This brought about a “marriage” that turned out to be detrimental to the health of the Church by way of the compromises that came about as a result.
We are given many examples in the Scriptures of what we should hold dear as Christ-followers, and what we should avoid because it will damage or destroy our walk with God. Hebrews 3:7-15 is applicable here:
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (NKJV)
A little bit of history will help us to understand the things Jesus was pointing out to the Church of Pergamos. This will then help us to apply the same principles to our own walk with God.
Pergamos was located in what is modern day Turkey. In fact, all seven of the churches addressed by Jesus in Revelation 2 and 3 were located in what is now Turkey.
Pergamos was a great religious center within the Roman Empire. Today there is a city of about 20,000 inhabitants and the city is now called Bergama. The ancient city of Pergamos was much larger, having a population of around 200,000 and due to its relative geographic impregnable position, was used as a treasury.
The city was known as the “City of the Serpent”, due to the Caduceus being its official emblem. The reader might remember that the Caduceus originated in Numbers 21:4-9 when the Israelites had brought down a curse of fiery serpents upon themselves by their incessant complaining and insulting God. Many of the people had been bitten and quite a number had already died when God gave Moses an answer to the problem. It is quite a strange story to read, but God’s answer to the venomous snakes was the making of a fiery brass snake wrapped around a pole and lifted up to where the people could see it. God told them that anyone who was bitten by the snakes need only look up at the snake lifted up on the pole, and they would not die of the bites. The significance of this is hardly hidden to us in the Church Age, but we’ll need to come back to it at another time.
The people of Pergamos worshipped an idol named Aesculapius (said to be the son of Apollos and the virgin Cornois) and who was called the “god of healing”. Legend had it that Aesculapius had the power to avert death. The Greeks later showed Aesculapius holding Hermes’ staff, which was the Caduceus. It was also said in legends that Hermes was the god of commerce.
Zeus was also said to have been born in Pergamos and the city had a massive altar built to Zeus that the people used as part of their worship. Bible dictionaries tell us that the city had great temples built to Zeus, Athene, Apollos, and Aesculapius. Although most cities of that time were notoriously pagan in their religious worship and practices, Pergamos was one of the best known for this.
Knowing these few facts of the ancient city of Pergamos helps us understand why Jesus said the specific things He said to the Church in this city. The name of the city has a meaning we should take note of as well. As we know, most proper names have a definition or meaning attached to them. In my research I found several, but one seems to fit the message from Jesus the best. “Per” means “mixed or objectionable”, and “Gamos” has to do with “marriage”. So, Pergamos defined is “mixed marriage”. Another meaning was “married to the tower”.
When Jesus twice made the comment in verse 13 of Revelation 2 that He knew that they were living at the place that was Satan’s throne and where his dwelling was, He meant it quite literally. Just for the sake of clarification, Zeus and Jupiter are the same pagan “god”. Zeus is the Greek version of Jupiter, which is the Roman name for their god.
Antipas, mentioned in verse 13 of Revelation 2 was a famous Christian who became a martyr in Pergamos during this time period. His records have for the most part been destroyed, but he had been a contemporary of John or possibly Polycarp, a well known disciple of John the Apostle. Not much is known about Antipas but there are some Orthodox traditions that said Antipas was the bishop of the Christian church in Pergamos. According to these traditions, when he was brought up on charges because of his belief in Jesus Christ the Messiah, he was told: “The whole world is against you, Antipas!” Antipas’ response was, “Then Antipas is against the whole world!” Also, according to tradition, after his sentence was declared, Antipas was placed inside of a hollow brass bull and roasted to death as the bull was heated by a fire kindled underneath it. Antipas obviously got the attention of His Lord and Master, Jesus, and so we have Antipas mentioned in this important passage of Scripture.
The Christians in Pergamos were commended for not denying Jesus’ Name and teachings. There was still a strong representation of those who had not stained their spiritual garments by misrepresenting their Lord and Master. There are many commentators that have come to the conclusion that the commandment not to take our God’s Name in vain has much less to do with swearing than it has to do with misrepresenting the One with the NAME. In light of Biblical teachings on living the life of a true Christ-follower, I find myself agreeing. The view the world around us has of Jesus and what true Christianity is all about is wrapped up in what true Christlikeness they see in us! What is the world’s view of Jesus around you? What is the world’s view of Jesus around me? Do we portray the real Jesus in our lifestyle, speech, habits, and atmosphere they find in our homes when they come to visit? It is so important that Jesus commended many of these believers for their spiritual integrity in not “denying” Jesus’ Name or His teachings.
Jesus however did have some things against this church that we must examine. Jesus accused them of “having those amongst them who held to the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” Who were Balaam and Balak and of what importance are they in reference to the Church of Pergamos?
Numbers 22-24 gives us a detailed account of Balaam who was a heathen prophet, Balak the king of Moab, and how this king tried to hire Balaam to curse the Israelites who were camped near the Moabites, and whom he had great fear of. Everyone in the region had heard of the Israelites and the stories of their exodus from Egypt and the decimating plagues that destroyed the land of Egypt. They had also heard of the miraculous events which had protected and sustained these millions of Israelites in the desert.
In this story Balak tried several times to hire Balaam to do his dirty work but Balaam was reluctant because even though he was a pagan prophet, he did know something of the true God and was reluctant to curse His people, the Israelites. Finally, due to his own arrogance and greed, the king’s offers were too rich for him to turn down. Three times Balaam tried to curse the Israelites, yet nothing but blessings came out of his mouth! God had confounded his tongue and would not allow His people to be cursed. Balak expressed great anger with the prophet and we find in chapter 31 of Numbers that Balaam showed Balak the king how to trip the Israelites up without having to curse them. He used the Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men and therefore corrupt what could not be cursed. The result of this corruption of course was that Israel paid a very high price for their sin by a deadly plague that struck the nation and many thousands died. We find in Numbers 25 how the people prostituted themselves due to the temptation put before their eyes:
Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Ba’al of Peor, and the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel.
What a tragedy this was! God had just sovereignly controlled the mouth of Balaam’s jackass so that he would warn the bullheaded prophet. Then he controlled the tongue of Balaam so that he proclaimed blessings over the Israelites instead of curses. Instead of responding to their Sovereign benefactor, the people rebelled against Him and corrupted themselves with the lust of their eyes! After they fornicated themselves, they gathered together with the pagan peoples and joined in their pagan revelry. In no time, they defiled themselves worse yet by worshipping the Moabite and Midianite gods! The result was that God would be forced to respond before they destroyed themselves completely.
So what is the doctrine of Balaam really and what made it important enough to be pointed out as a problem in the Church of Pergamos? What is the connection? Balaam was willing to do almost anything if enough money was thrown at his feet! He was initially reluctant to curse Israel but after great honor and an overly generous amount of payment was offered, he went against what the Almighty God was speaking to his conscience. He did not recognize the great grace offered to him by the Almighty and it was not until God opened the mouth of his donkey that Balaam realized how badly he had angered the God of Israel!
The doctrine of Balaam continues in that Balaam showed the king of the Moabites how to set a trap for the Israelites. By having the most beautiful of the Moabite women come in close proximity to the Israelite camp, they were able to seduce many of them. Notice in verse 1 of Numbers 25 that Israel decided to remain in Acacia–the location where the Moabite women had set up camp within sight of the Israelites. Many of these men allowed themselves to be seduced and then ended up intermarrying with them and having children with them–strictly against the commands of God. This is where the name “Pergamos” takes great significance. As pointed out above, Pergamos means “Mixed or objectionable marriage”. The New Testament gives us God’s opinion of what happened with Balaam and Israel.
Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. (Jude vs. 11, NKJV)
They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet. (2 Peter 2:15-16, NKJV)
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? (James 4:4-5, NKJV)
The “doctrine of Balaam” is plaguing the modern day Church today and most do not see it. The devil knows well enough that he will likely not make a lot of headway in corrupting God’s people by showing up at the front door in his red suit with horns sticking out of his forehead and a forked tail! Even the devil knows how to seduce in a way we hardly notice it is him doing the seducing! He uses Balaam’s trick and camps in our vicinity with the tricks of his trade. What are some of these tricks? Could it be much of what we fill our minds with through entertainment today? Could it come through the influence of Hollywood stars that so many people worship? How about the music we allow to flood our minds? I see the commercial advertisements billing Britney Spears as the “Queen of Sin City”. Yet, millions of Americans see Britney as someone to emulate! Then there is the demon possessed Miley Cyrus. She is a favorite “star” for millions! It gets worse…much worse! Much of what we see on television today would never have been allowed not long ago. I believe that some of the content on many of the video games our kids play today was spawned in hell! At the same time when our moral fibre is being destroyed, look at how today’s society ridicules traditional marriage and family. Have you noticed how homosexuality is being ingrained in everything–movies, TV serials, sports, commercials, politics, the military, etc.? The devil is finding it very easy to bring this generation down. The doctrine of Balaam is being preached throughout our society today!
Some likely will ask if everything we do has to have a “Christian” label on it. Is all music evil that is not “Christian”? Can I only watch “Christian” movies? Should I only read “Christian” books? Do I need to make sure my milk comes from a “Christian” cow?! I’m not suggesting this. What I am saying is we must be careful with what we allow ourselves to be influenced by. Our society and culture is changing quickly and it is not changing for the better. Our own tolerance level has a tendency to change with society if we’re not connected well with our Father. The things we never would allow before our eyes not long ago, we are now accepting as “normal”. What has happened to us? Has God changed? Is Christianity having to change and adapt in order to keep up with societal changes in order to stay relevant? Is “holiness” defined differently today than it was just decades ago? Have the ten commandments become archaic? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as preached by the great reformers of the past of no relevance in our sophisticated “learned” age? Has the Bible become obsolete? These are questions we must answer. If there is any question, we need to reconnect with the God of the Bible who tells us we need to search out the “ancient paths”, the paths of righteousness, the paths of repentance, paths of integrity, the ways of true godliness. These ways have nothing to do with religion! They come from an intimate walk with our Creator God through the indwelling of His Spirit.
In many ways, the Church has taken on the same personality as the world around us. The divorce rate within the Church is hardly different, if at all, than the secular world around us. The percentage of couples playing house before marriage is telling of how we have allowed the world to become our role model. We are commanded by God to love everyone, sinners included, but we are also commanded to call sin what it is–SIN! The majority of the pulpits in the West are afraid to use words like “sin”, “repentance”, “salvation”, “hell”, “eternal death”, “adultery”, “homosexuality”, and many others. We have also become afraid to take a stand against the things that God considers an abomination. It is not popular to take a stand for righteousness in our society today, but if the Church doesn’t take a Biblically accurate stand on right and wrong, who is going to? It is the fault of the Church that western society has become so corrupted! It is because we have fallen for the “Doctrine of Balaam”. We have “married” badly! Much of the Church is confused and thereby has compromised! The Church has been seduced and the majority have taken the bait.
The “Doctrine of Balaam” has also affected much of Church leadership everywhere. Churches wouldn’t be in the condition they are in if the leadership had not fallen for the enticements of the enemy to begin with. It is not just the Roman Catholic Church that has become wealthy and is ruled by an agenda that is totally foreign to the design of our Master. Protestant churches everywhere are following the patterns and success programming designed by secular organizations. Most large churches function as a corporation with their senior pastor filling the role of CEO, with each staff pastor in charge of a department of the corporate enterprise. Numbers and organizational recognition are of utmost importance! Following an organizational model is not the problem. The problem is in losing touch with what we are really all about in this fallen world. Most have lost their salt, and their light no longer shines. Many churches have become nothing more than “religious institutions”. Sermons have become nothing more than well crafted speeches to boost egos and draw seekers of easy religion where everyone leaves church feeling good because God is a God of love and all He wants is for us to be prosperous and in good health.
The so-called “Prosperity and ‘Happy’ Gospel” has become intertwined with the true Gospel to such an extent that much of the Western minded Church has prostituted itself and for the most part does not recognize it. When Scriptural passages are used to propagate a distortion of what the Word of God intends, it leads to a misuse of Biblical principles and the mark of the true Gospel is missed. Jesus made said some shocking things in Matthew 7:21-23:
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
One has to wonder in how many churches today a John the Baptist or Elijah would be tolerated. The subjects they would cover and likely their delivery style would get them thrown out. They would not be tolerated because people would become very uncomfortable. Is not this the very thing that brought real revival throughout the past years though? It was tough unadulterated preaching that made people cry out to God for mercy on their souls! There was no wasting time with canned sermons found on the internet or in pastoral helps magazines with no Holy Spirit power. And that kind of preaching will not meet the need of this desperate hour. This all comes from a “mixed or objectionable marriage” with the world such as the Church of Pergamos had. Matthew 3:1-3, 10 says this:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’”…”And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees, therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (NKJV)
I believe the axe truly is beginning to be laid to the root of the trees. What is real will be shown to be real and what is in error will be exposed. Many ministries that pride themselves in their social, political, or organizational accomplishments will come up short before the Judge of the whole earth. We must prepare the way of the LORD. He is coming!
To be continued in Part 3